Lawyers Weekly Article

Lawyers Weekly Article

Women-Owned Firm Provides ‘Practical Results’
Entrepreneurial Spirit Drove Decision To Open Office

Earlier this year, “Ohio SuperLawyers” Karen L. Giffen and Kerin Lyn Kaminski left Cavitch, Familo, Durkin & Frutkin Co., LPA to open one of Cleveland’s newest women-owned law firms, Giffen & Kaminski, LLC.

Giffen, who joined Cavitch after working for the National Labor Relations Board for 10 years, quickly became friends with Kaminski, whose law career also started at Cavitch.

That friendship, combined with a shared value system, an “entrepreneurial spirit” and a fiery passion drove their decision to be “in control of their destiny” and open their own litigation-based firm.

Their complementary styles are also a key element to their success.

Giffen loves the art of legal argument, citing her recent argument before the Ohio Court of Appeals as one of her favorite moments. Kaminski, on the other hand, prefers the “how” behind the argument, and calls herself the fact-finder.

Moreover, Giffen & Kaminski will not be a “women only” firm, as its founders plan on adding additional staff in the coming year.

“We don’t have the intention to have an all-female firm, but we do intend to have as diverse a firm as we can possibly have,” said Giffen. “When you have input from people with varied backgrounds and life experiences, the product you are able to provide has a much greater chance of being an improved product than if you have only one voice.”

The duo recently spoke with Lawyers Weekly’s Amanda Aranowski about their thriving careers and what it takes to build a successful firm.

Q. What sparked the decision to leave Cavitch and go out on your own?

A. (Giffen) Just like every other person we have spoken to who has started their own business, we had desire to have a greater degree of control over our own futures and where we went. It is that entrepreneurial spirit that was there in us.

At the time, we were doing some work for Fortune 500 companies. We learned there was a business opportunity out there B many Fortune 500 Companies have a significant interest in expanding the kinds of people who are providing their legal services. In particular, they want diversity, which means women-owned businesses and minority-owned businesses.

That prompted us to say there may be a business opportunity out there that will help us and, of course, increase our business, as well as giving us the freedom to control our own destiny.

Q. What attributes do you think partners need to go into practice together?

A. (Giffen) Excellent question. We spent a lot of time talking about exactly that issue. We have the advantage of having worked together – we know what our work habits are like, and we know what our value systems are. Also, we were very good friends. When we decided to go into business, one of the things we thought about was what is going to be the impact on our friendship. We both thought that it would be enhanced by reason of our business relationship.

The quality you must have when you are thinking about going into business with somebody is you have to trust them. That is by far the most important thing. You have to have a shared value system.

(Kaminski) Number one, you have to have a shared value system. Karen and I have spent a lot of time talking about what our values are, where we want the business to go, what=s important to us about the business, and why we are doing this. We made sure we were on track with one another. It=s essential because it comes up every day.

(Giffen) It’s important that we have a shared value system in terms of the way that we conduct the business, but another very important value system is the way in which we deliver legal services to our clients. Kerin and I have found that the clients we have are most interested in responsive lawyers who give them very practical results in the litigation context. That is something we feel is very important and what we want to be able to deliver to clients.

Q. What would you say is the most challenging part of your jobs?

A. (Kaminski) Learning to combine all of the administrative details, all of the things you have to do to run the business, and how to integrate that while I am practicing law. That has been a real challenge.

(Giffen) I would echo what Kerin just said, though I would expand it only slightly. It has made the balance of work life and home life much more challenging. I suspect that would be the answer any new small business owner would give.

Q. What advice do you have for those who would like to start their own firm?

(Kaminski) You must have a plan. Spend a lot of time in discussion about that the business model is going to be, and what the goals and values are.

Q. What are your most memorable cases?

A. (Kaminski) Two come to mind, and one is completely different from what I do on a daily basis.

I represented a woman who needed a certain type of bone marrow transplant and the insurance company had denied it as being experimental. We were able to go into federal court and get an active injunction ordering the insurance company to pay for this particular type of bone marrow transplant.

She probably had six months to live at the time we did this. That was nine years ago and she is still alive. That is the case I go to bed feeling best about.

The most memorable in the business context was where some employees left a business we represented and they went to three different states. We were able to go in to all three states and get their wrongful conduct enjoined. At that time, California didn’t allow injunctions but we made a novel argument and were able to get it enjoined. It is my understanding that, at that time, it was the broadest injunction ever issued in California and I have always been very proud of that.

(Giffen) Recently winning a very significant matter on appeal – the thrill of the legal argument before the Court of Appeals is what’s most memorable for me.

Q. Tell me about that case.

A. (Giffen) The contract issue was about fees that were supposed to be paid on a particular agreement. It was essentially a de novo argument of those issues, but what was thrilling was dealing with the questions from the panel about the record showed and what the applicable law was.

I love the legal argument you have the opportunity to make in an appellate argument. It was great fun B and even more fun to win.

(Kaminski) Karen loves the legal arguments and I love to dig up the facts. I find the facts and figure out how to argue them, and Karen comes up with an argument.

Q. What projects are you currently involved in?

A. (Giffen) We have recently become certified for membership in the National Association of Minority Women Owned Law Firms. NAMWOLF’s aim is to increase participation by minority- and women-owned firms for the legal services that Fortune 500 companies need. We are hoping to become much more active in the organization itself and all of its projects.
(Kaminski) I am on the board of the Hitchcock Center for Women, which is a treatment facility for women for alcohol and drug addiction. It’s unique in Ohio because at the Hitchcock Center, women are allowed to bring their children with them to treatment. Many women don’t get treatment for their addictions because they have children and nobody to care for them. It has a holistic approach to the healing of women from the ravages of the disease of addiction. They also have a housing component where the women can stay for up to one year while they are being trained to go back into the job market.

It’s been a huge passion of mine. This year, they need a new boiler to keep the women and children warm this winter, so we have been heavily trying to raise money for that. That fed right into “Our Commitment to our Community,” through the Cleveland Bar Association. It’s really a call to service for lawyers to get involved with non-profits and pro bono work, to give back to the society.

Q. What is it that makes you successful?

A. (Kaminski) You have to start off with a passion for what you do. Part of it is the passion we bring with us, but the other thing is the real concern for our clients, being responsive to them, and being able to be practical problem solvers. Our main goal is to give good business advice that is practical and solves problems. If that is your goal, then that makes you stand out. Our clients really appreciate the hand holding we give them, the concern we have for their problems, and for taking their problems off of their shoulders and putting them onto ours.